urban environments &
our health

 

The successful annotation of the human genome is considered one of the most significant achievements in science. With the recent advancements in genomic technologies, researchers are now able to consider our ‘second genome’ – the human microbiome.

The microbiome is the vast array of microbes that live on, in, and around us. These microbiota can range from deadly pathogens to the gut bacteria which allow newborn babies to digest milk. ‘Friendly’ microbes can provide us with genetic diversity, immunity benefits, and assist with metabolic function. With the help of new technologies such as genomics, we are now beginning to tease apart the relationships that we have with our resident microbes. It has become clear that our personal microbiome is not ‘fixed’ and that our surroundings can have a huge effect on its makeup and, consequently, on our health.

By 2030, 70% of people will live in urban areas. Urbanisation is particularly on the rise in developing nations. This is reducing people’s exposure to the natural world, and, consequently, their contact with microbiomes of natural environments. All the while, immune-related health disorders such as allergies, auto-immune and chronic inflammatory diseases are on the increase. Medical researchers now have reason to believe there is a link between these trends.

This leads us to the question: Can healthier and biodiverse urban ecosystems also make us healthier people? If so, how can we best harness this relationship to build the next generation of urban green spaces. Can we develop green prescriptions?

The FORE team partners with the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative (HUMI). HUMI is a collaboration of scientists, local government and public health professionals working together to understand and recreate the immune-boosting power of the natural world and bring it to our city green spaces. Through this we hope to maximise population health benefits and bring significant savings to health budgets, while delivering gains for biodiversity.